Terebess Asia Online (tao)



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Like police, who live in two worlds, the biological and the social, psychiatrists also live in two worlds, the social and the intellectual. Like cops, they are in absolute control of the lower order and are expected to be absolutely subservient to the upper order. A psychiatrist who condemns intellectuality would be like a cop who condemns society. Not the right stuff. You have as much chance convincing a psychiatrist that the intellectual order he enforces is rotten as you have of convincing a cop that the social order he supports is rotten. If they ever believed you they'd have to quit their jobs.

So Phaedrus had seen that if you want to get out of an insane asylum the way to do it is not to try to persuade the psychiatrists that you may know more than they do about what is 'wrong' with you. That is hopeless. The way to get out is to persuade them that you fully understand that they know more than you do and that you are fully ready to accept their intellectual authority. That is how heretics keep from getting burned. They recant. You have to do a first-class acting job and not allow any little glances of resentment get in there. If you do they may catch you at it and you may be worse off than if you hadn't tried.

If they ask you how you're feeling you can't say, 'Great!' That would be a symptom of delusion. But you can't say, 'Rotten!' either. They'll believe it and increase the tranquilizer dosage. You have to say, 'Well ... I think I may be improving a little bit ..." and do so with a little look of humility and pleading in your eyes. That brings the smiles.

In time this strategy had brought Phaedrus enough smiles to get out. It made him less honest and it made him more of a conformist to the current cultural status quo but that is what everyone really wanted. It got him out and back to his family and a job and a place in the world again and this new personality of a conforming, role-playing, ex-mental patient who knew how to do as he was told without protest became a sort of permanent stage personality that he never dropped.

It wasn't a happy solution, to always role-play with people he had once been honest with. It made it impossible to ever really share anything with them. Now he was more isolated than he had been in the insane asylum but there was nothing he could do about it. In his first book he had cast this isolated role-player as the narrator, a fellow who is likable because he is so recognizably normal, but who has trouble coping with his own life because he has destroyed his ability to deal honestly with it. It was this isolation that indirectly broke up his family and led to this present life.

Now, years later, his resentment against what had happened in the hospital had lessened, and he began to see that there is, of course, a need for psychiatrists just as there is for cops. Somebody has to deal with the degenerate forms of society and intellect. The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don't start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don't start with psychiatrists. If you don't like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.

Who do you start with then? . . . Anthropologists?

Actually that's not such a bad idea. Anthropologists, when they're not being self-consciously 'objective,' tend to be very interested in new things.

The idea had first come to Phaedrus in the mountains near Bozeman, Montana, where he first began reading anthropology. It was there he read Ruth Benedict's implication that the way to correct the brujo's problem in Zuni would have been to deport him to one of the Plains tribes where his temperamental drives would have blended in better. What about that? Send the insane to anthropologists rather than psychiatrists for a cure!

Ruth Benedict maintained that psychiatry had been confused by its start from a fixed list of symptoms instead of from the case study of the insane, those whose characteristic reactions are denied validity in their society. Another anthropologist, D. T. Campbell, agreed, saying, 'Implicitly the laboratory psychologist still assumes that his college sophomores provide an adequate basis for a general psychology of man.' He said that for social psychology these tendencies have been very substantially curbed through confrontation with the anthropological literature.

The psychiatrist's approach would have analyzed the brujo's childhood to find causes for his behavior, shown why he became a window peeper, counseled him against window-peeping, and, if he continued, possibly 'confined him for his own good.' But the anthropologist on the other hand could study the person's complaints, find a culture where the complaints were solved and send him there. In the brujo's case anthropologists would have sent him up north to the Cheyenne. But if someone suffered from sexual inhibition by the Victorians, he could be sent to Margaret Mead's Samoa; or if he suffered from paranoia, sent to one of the Middle Eastern countries where suspicious attitudes are more normal.

What anthropologists see over and over again is that insanity is culturally defined. It occurs in all cultures but each culture has different criteria for what constitutes it. Kluckhohn has referred to an old Sicilian, who spoke only a little English, who came to a San Francisco hospital to be treated for a minor physical ailment. The intern who examined him noted that he kept muttering that he was being witched by a certain woman, that this was the real reason for his suffering. The intern promptly sent him to the psychiatric ward where he was kept for several years. Yet in the Italian colony from which he came everybody of his age group believed in witchcraft. It was 'normal' in the sense of standard. If someone from the intern's own economic and educational group had complained of being persecuted by a witch, this would have been correctly interpreted as a sign of mental derangement.

Many others reported cultural correlations of the symptoms of insanity. M. K. Opler found that Irish schizophrenic patients had preoccupations with sin and guilt related to sex. Not Italians. Italians were given to hypochondriacal complaints and body preoccupations. There was more open rejection of authority among Italians. Clifford Geertz stated that the Balinese definition of a madman is someone who, like an American, smiles when there is nothing to smile at. In one journal Phaedrus found a description of different psychoses which were specialized according to culture: the Chippewa-Cree suffered from windigo, a form of cannibalism; in Japan there was imu, a cursing following snake-bite; among Polar Eskimos it is pibloktog, a tearing off of clothes and running across the ice; and in Indonesia was the famous amok, a brooding depression which succeeds to a dangerous explosion of violence.

Anthropologists found that schizophrenia is strongest among those whose ties with the cultural traditions are weakest: drug users, intellectuals, immigrants, students in their first year at college, soldiers recently inducted.

A study of Norwegian-born immigrants in Minnesota showed that over a period of four decades their rate of hospitalization for mental disorders was much higher than those for either non-immigrant Americans or Norwegians in Norway. Isaac Frost found that psychoses often develop among foreign domestic servants in Britain, usually within eighteen months of their arrival.

These psychoses, which are an extreme form of culture shock, emerge among these people because the cultural definition of values which underlies their sanity has been changed. It was not an awareness of 'truth' that was sustaining their sanity, it was their sureness of their cultural directives.

Now, psychiatry can't really deal with all of this because it is pinioned to a subject-object truth system which declares that one particular intellectual pattern is real and all others are illusions. Psychiatry is forced to take this position in contradiction to history, which shows over and over again that one era's illusions become another era's truths, and in contradiction to geography, which shows that one area's truths are another area's illusions. But a philosophy of insanity generated by a Metaphysics of Quality states that all these conflicting intellectual truths are just value patterns. One can vary from a particular common historical and geographical truth pattern without being crazy.

The anthropologists established a second point: not only does insanity vary from culture to culture, but sanity itself also varies from culture to culture. They found that the 'ability to see reality' is not only a difference between the sane and the insane, it is also a difference between different cultures of the sane. Each culture presumes its beliefs correspond to some sort of external reality, but a geography of religious beliefs shows that this external reality can be just about any damn thing. Even the facts that people observe to confirm the 'truth' are dependent on the culture they live in.

Categories that are unessential to a given culture, Boas said, will, on the whole, not be found in its language. Categories that are culturally important will be found in detail. Ruth Benedict, who was Boas' student, stated:
The cultural pattern of any civilization makes use of a certain segment of the great arc of potential human purposes and motivations just as . . . any culture makes use of certain selected material techniques or cultural traits. The great arc along which all the possible human behaviors are distributed is far too immense and too full of contradictions for any one culture to utilize even any considerable portion of it. Selection is the first requirement. Without selection no culture could even achieve intelligibility and the intentions it selects and makes its own are a much more important matter than the particular detail of technology or the marriage formality that it also selects in similar fashion.
A child in a money-society will draw pictures of coins that are larger than a child in a primitive culture. Moreover the money-society children overestimate the size of a coin in proportion to the value of the coin. Poor children will overestimate more than rich ones.

Eskimos see sixteen different forms of ice which are as different to them as trees and shrubs are different to us. Hindus, on the other hand, use the same term for both ice and snow. Creek and Natchez Indians do not distinguish yellow from green. Similarly, Choctaw, Tunica, the Keresian Pueblo Indians and many other people make no terminological distinction between blue and green. The Hopis have no word for time.

Edward Sapir said,
The fact of the matter is that the 'real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group . . . Forms and significances which seem obvious to an outsider will be denied outright by those who carry out the patterns; outlines and implications that are perfectly clear to these may be absent to the eye of the onlooker.
As Kluckhohn put it,
Any language is more than an instrument of conveying ideas, more even than an instrument for working upon the feelings of others and for self-expression. Every language is also a means of categorizing experience. The events of the 'real' world are never felt or reported as a machine would do it. There is a selection process and an interpretation in the very act of response. Some features of the external situation are highlighted, others are ignored or not fully discriminated.

Every people has its own characteristic class in which individuals pigeonhole their experiences. The language says, as it were, 'notice this', 'always consider this separate from that', 'such and such things always belong together.' Since persons are trained from infancy to respond in these ways they take such discriminations for granted as part of the inescapable stuff of life.


That explained a lot of what Phaedrus had heard on the psychiatric wards. What the patients showed wasn't any one common characteristic but an absence of one. What was absent was the kind of standard social role-playing that 'normal' people get into. Sane people don't realize what a bunch of role-players they are, but the insane see this role-playing and resent it.

There was a famous experiment where a sane person went onto a ward disguised as insane. The staff never detected his act, but the other patients did. The patients saw he was acting. The hospital staff, who were playing standard social roles of their own, couldn't detect the difference.

Insanity as an absence of common characteristics is also demonstrated by the Rorschach ink-blot test for schizophrenia. In this test, randomly formed ink splotches are shown to the patient and he is asked what he sees. If he says, 'I see a pretty lady with a flowering hat,' that is not a sign of schizophrenia. But if he says, 'All I see is an ink-blot,' he is showing signs of schizophrenia. The person who responds with the most elaborate lie gets the highest score for sanity. The person who tells the absolute truth does not. Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected. Truth is sometimes in conformity, sometimes not.

Phaedrus had adopted the term 'static filter' for this phenomenon. He saw that this static filter operates at all levels. When, for example, someone praises your home town or family or ideas you believe that and remember it, but when someone condemns these institutions you get angry and condemn him and dismiss what he has said and forget it. Your static value system filters out the undesirable opinions and preserves the desirable ones.

But it isn't just opinions that get filtered out. It's also data. When you buy a certain model of car you may be amazed at how the highways fill up with other people driving the same model. Because you now value this model more you now see more of it.

When Phaedrus started to read yachting literature he ran across a description of the 'green flash' of the sun. What was that all about? he wondered. Why hadn't he seen it? He was sure he had never seen the green flash of the sun. Yet he must have seen it. But if he saw it, why didn't he see it?

This static filter was the explanation. He didn't see the green flash because he'd never been told to see it. But then one day he read a book on yachting which said, in effect, to go see it. So he did. And he saw it. There was the sun, green as green can be, like a 'GO' light on a downtown traffic semaphore. Yet all his life he had never seen it. The culture hadn't told him to so he hadn't seen it. If he hadn't read that book on yachting he was quite certain he would never have seen it.

A few months back a static filtering had occurred that could have been disastrous. It was in an Ohio port where he had come in out of a summer storm on Lake Erie. He had just barely been able to sail to windward off the rocks through the night until he reached a harbor about twenty miles down the coast from Cleveland.

When he got there and was safely in the lee of the jetty he went below and grabbed a harbor chart and brought it up and held it, soaking wet, in the rain, using the boat's spreader lights to read by while he steered past concrete dividing walls, piers, harbor buoys and other markers until he found the yacht basin and tied up at a berth.

He had slept exhausted for most of the next day, and when he woke up and went outside it was afternoon. He asked someone how far it was to Cleveland.

'You're in Cleveland,' he was told.

He couldn't believe it. The chart said he was in a harbor miles from Cleveland.

Then he remembered the little 'discrepancies' he had seen on the chart when he came in. When a buoy had a 'wrong' number on it he presumed it had been changed since the chart was made. When a certain wall appeared that was not shown, he assumed it had been built recently or maybe he hadn't come to it yet and he wasn't quite where he thought he was. It never occurred to him to think he was in a whole different harbor!

It was a parable for students of scientific objectivity. Wherever the chart disagreed with his observations he rejected the observation and followed the chart. Because of what his mind thought it knew, it had built up a static filter, an immune system, that was shutting out all information that did not fit. Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing.

If this were just an individual phenomenon it would not be so serious. But it is a huge cultural phenomenon too and it is very serious. We build up whole cultural intellectual patterns based on past 'facts' which are extremely selective. When a new fact comes in that does not fit the pattern we don't throw out the pattern. We throw out the fact. A contradictory fact has to keep hammering and hammering and hammering, sometimes for centuries, before maybe one or two people will see it. And then these one or two have to start hammering on others for a long time before they see it too.

Just as the biological immune system will destroy a life-saving skin graft with the same vigor with which it fights pneumonia, so will a cultural immune system fight off a beneficial new kind of understanding like that of the bruj'o in Zuni with the same kind of vigor it uses to destroy crime. It can't distinguish between them.

Phaedrus recognized that there's nothing immoral in a culture not being ready to accept something Dynamic. Static latching is necessary to sustain the gains the culture has made in the past. The solution is not to condemn the culture as stupid but to look for those factors that will make the new information acceptable: the keys. He thought of this Metaphysics of Quality as a key.

The Dharmakaya light. That was a huge area of human experience cut off by cultural filtering.

Over the years it also had become a burden to him, this knowledge about the light. It cut off a whole area of rational communion with others. It was not something that he could talk about without being slammed by the cultural immune system, being thought crazy, and with his record it was not good to invite that suspicion.

But he had seen it again on Lila tonight and he had seen it very strongly back in Kingston. That's sort of what got him into all this. It told him there was something of importance here. It told him to wake up and not go by the book in dealing with her.

He didn't think of this light as some sort of supernatural occurrence that had no grounding in physical reality. In fact he was sure it was grounded in physical

reality. But nobody sees it because the cultural definition of what is real and what is unreal filters out the Dharmakaya light from twentieth-century American 'reality' just as surely as time is filtered out of Hopi reality, and green-yellow differences mean nothing to the Natchez.

He couldn't demonstrate it scientifically, because you couldn't predict when it was going to occur and thus couldn't set up an experiment to test for it. But, without any experimental testing, he thought that the light was nothing more than an involuntary widening of the iris of the eyes of the observer that lets in extra light and makes things look brighter, a kind of hallucinatory light produced by optic stimulation, somewhat like the light that comes when one stares at something too long. Like eye blinks, it's assumed to be an irrelevant interruption of what one 'really' sees, or it's assumed to be a subjective phenomenon, which is unreal, as opposed to an objective phenomenon, which is real.

But despite filtering by the cultural immune system, references to this light occur in many places, scattered, disconnected, and unrelated. Lamps are sometimes used as symbols of learning. Why should they be? A torch, like the old Blake school torch, is sometimes used as a symbol of idealistic inspiration. When we suddenly understand something we say, 'I've seen the light,' or, 'It has dawned on me.' When a cartoonist wants to show someone getting a great idea he puts an electric light bulb over the character's head. Everybody understands instantly what this symbol means. Why? Where did it come from? It can't be very old because there weren't any electric bulbs much before this century. What have electric light bulbs got to do with new ideas? Why doesn't the cartoonist ever have to explain what he means by that light bulb? Why does everybody know what he means?

In other cultures, or in the religious literature of our past, where the immune system of 'objectivity' is weak or non-existent, reference to this light is everywhere, from the Protestant hymn, 'Lead Kindly Light,' to the halos of the saints. The central terms of Western mysticism, 'enlightenment,' and 'illumination' refer to it directly. Darsana, a fundamental Hindu form of religious instruction, means 'giving of light.' Descriptions of Zen sartori mention it. It is referred to extensively in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Aldous Huxley referred to it as part of the mescaline experience. Phaedrus remembered it from the time with Dusenberry at the peyote meeting, although he had assumed that it was just an optical illusion produced by the drug and not of any great importance.

Proust wrote about it in Remembrance of Things Past. In El Greco's 'Nativity' the Dharmakaya light emanating from the Christ child provides the only illumination there is. El Greco was thought by some to have defective eyesight because he painted this light. But in his portrait of Cardinal Guevara, the prosecutor of the Spanish Inquisition, the lace and silks of the cardinal's robes are done with exquisite 'objective' luster but the light is completely absent. El Greco didn't have to paint it. He painted what he saw.

Once when Phaedrus was standing in one of the galleries of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, he saw on one wall a huge painting of the Buddha and nearby were some paintings of Christian saints. He noticed again something he had thought about before. Although the Buddhists and Christians had no historic contact with one another they both painted halos. The halos weren't the same size. The Buddhists painted great big ones, sometimes surrounding the person's whole body, while the Christian ones were smaller and in back of the person's head or over it. It seemed to mean the two religions weren't copying one another or they would have made the halos the same size. But they were both painting something they were seeing separately, which implied that that 'something' they were painting had a real, independent existence.

Then as Phsedrus was thinking this he noticed one painting in the corner and thought, There. What the others are just painting symbolically he is actually showing. They're seeing it second-hand. He's seeing it first hand.'

It was a painting of Christ with no halo at all. But the clouds in the sky behind his head were slightly lighter near his head than farther away. And the sky near his head was lighter too. That was all. But that was the real illumination, no objective thing at all, just a shift in intensity of light. Phaedrus stepped up to the canvas to read the name-plate at the bottom. It was El Greco again.

Our culture immunizes us against giving much importance to all this because the light has no 'objective' reality. That means it's just some 'subjective' and therefore unreal phenomenon. In a Metaphysics of Quality, however, this light is important because it often appears associated with undefined auspiciousness, that is, with Dynamic Quality. It signals a Dynamic intrusion upon a static situation. When there is a letting go of static patterns the light occurs. It is often accompanied by a feeling of relaxation because static patterns have been jarred loose.

He thought it was probably the light that infants see when their world is still fresh and whole, before consciousness differentiates it into patterns; a light into which everything fades at death. Accounts of people who have had a 'near death experience' have referred to this 'white light' as something very beautiful and compelling from which they didn't want to return. The light would occur during the breakup of the static patterns of the person's intellect as it returned into the pure Dynamic Quality from which it had emerged in infancy.

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